Boone's injury leaves gaping hole for Yanks

With the injury to Aaron Boone, the Yankees are now in a tough spot as they look for a replacement at third base.

Originally Published: January 27, 2004
By Bob Klapisch | Special to ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- When A's GM Billy Beane first heard that Aaron Boone might be out for the entire season -- and that the Yankees are suddenly minus a front-line third baseman -- he immediately reached for the phone to call counterpart Brian Cashman. Beane can smell panic 3,000 miles away, and his every instinct suggested now was the time to exploit the Yankees.

After all, the Bombers have virtually no replacement for Boone, which is why Beane almost started dialing Cashman's number. The A's have exactly what the Yankees need -- Eric Chavez, who's only a year away from free agency and like Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada before him, on his way to cashing a lottery ticket Beane probably can't afford to pay.

Aaron Boone
Aaron Boone's days as a Yankee could very well be over.

Would the Yankees be interested in Chavez? You don't even have to ask.

But would the A's even consider such a deal? Beane thought about it Monday night -- and then thought better.

"There's no one this side of Mickey Mantle we'd consider trading Eric Chavez for," Beane finally decided. "He's more valuable than anything we could get in return."

Beane meant no disrespect to the American League champs, but his decision to not call Cashman sent a clear message: even in their moment of crisis, the Yankees have nothing that would interest the A's: no affordable starting talent, and nothing in the farm system, either.

And that's the greater problem the Yankees face in the coming weeks: how do they find another third baseman with spring training only three weeks away? The club's most immediate option is to audition recent acquisition Miguel Cairo and/or Enrique Wilson, or even Erick Almonte, but few baseball people believe the Yankees will be satisfied with such modest choices.

And certainly, the Bombers have no realistic hope that Drew Henson can help them. "He's not even being considered," is how one Yankee official characterized the former Michigan quarterback's standing with the club. Henson struck out 122 times at Triple-A Columbus last year, batting .234 while committing 28 errors.

Instead, the search will inevitably be conducted outside the organization. A realistic possibility is Edgardo Alfonzo, a former Met who, despite a bulky contract (three years to go on a four-year, $26 million deal) has told friends he wants to return to New York. Another possibility is free agent Jose Hernandez, although his cachet diminished considerably after he batted just .225 with the Pirates in 2003, striking out 177 times in 519 at-bats.

Of course, it's also possible the Yankees will wait out the first half of the season and hope for a deal by the July 31 deadline. But like the A's, the Bombers would be hard-pressed to satisfy the demands of, say, the Angels, who might lose Troy Glaus to free agency in 2005, or the Twins (Corey Koskie) or the Expos (Orlando Cabrera).

Of course, no one has yet concluded that Boone's season is over, at least not until the medical tests are complete. Cashman indicated the third baseman would likely "fly all over the country" to see a number of specialists in the next two weeks. That explains why the Yankees never formally announced Boone's injury to the public. Until Monday, the club was hoping to learn just how badly damaged Boone's left knee is before deciding how to replace him, and what disciplinary action to take.

There's no one this side of Mickey Mantle we'd consider trading Eric Chavez for. He's more valuable than anything we could get in return.
Billy Beane, A's GM

Privately, though, executives were startled that Boone was so forthcoming about how he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Considering he was injured in a pick-up basketball game, a clear violation of his contract, Boone is in danger of being released by the Yankees and having his $5.75 million salary voided. In this case, Boone's honesty could prove to be expensive.

Said one Yankee executive, "do you know how often GMs hear from a player, "I hurt myself on the treadmill?" And you're like, "right." But when a guy says that, there's nothing you can do."

Instead, Boone called the Yankees last week and confessed he'd suffered the injury on January 16. His agent, Adam Katz, told Newsday, "(Boone) was looking for an alternative to the treadmill and jumped into a pick-up game."

Katz went on to say, "Money hasn't been discussed yet, we're dealing with Aaron's health." But the Yankees said there's "no doubt" they could successfully void Boone's contract, if they so choose. If so, the club would be liable for only 30 days' termination pay, or slightly under $1 million.

Boone's place in Bronx history seemed secure, at least until now. Despite an anemic postseason performance (9-for-53 with 15 strikeouts), the third baseman ended the most dramatic Yankees playoff game in the last quarter century, slamming an 11th-inning HR off Tim Wakefield in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. Boone later called it, "the kind of thing you dream about when you're a kid."

By sending the Yankees to the World Series instead of the Red Sox, Boone earned enough political capital to justify another one-year contract. Still, club officials were disappointed that, following the midseason deal with the Reds, Boone gave them so little in return for prospect Brandon Claussen.

The Yankees were hoping a full year in New York would've allowed Boone to relax in pinstripes. As it turns out, that was just a pipedream, too.

Bob Klapisch of The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) covers baseball for ESPN.com.

Bob Klapisch is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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